Monday, March 26, 2012

Acquiring Actual Holiness: An Introductory Examination of Jerry Walls' Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation

I know that I have been rather absent from The Center of Theological Studies for the last several months now. I am thankful to the Lord Jesus that the work He graced me to publish here over the last two or three years is still bringing comments to the site, and visitors daily. The Lord continues to show me His grace and goodness in all that I do; for that, I am grateful beyond words.

Some of you have joined CTS in the last few months and have not so much as read a recent post written by me. I am sorry for my long absence. I have taken upon myself the responsibility of work and have had to spend gruesome hours online researching, writing articles, and crafting advertisements. I enjoy my work and take pride in what I do for a living; nevertheless, I have missed my theology blog and the joys that come with recording my convictions as I believe stem from the Word of God. Do not worry any longer; by God’s grace, I will be present at The Center for Theological Studies throughout the reading and blogging on Jerry Walls’ entire book.

Today’s post is simply an introduction to get us to think about purgatory as a doctrine and a place. For those of you who rarely dive into discussions on purgatory, let me give you a brief definition of purgatory: purgatory is a place that people go to when they die in order to have some sort of afterlife moral reformatory process. The logic behind purgatory is that we need to be completely transformed in order to enter into heaven. Jerry Walls states his case here:

“The requirement that we must actually become holy and thoroughly upright in spirit and character is one of the foundation stones of the doctrine of purgatory, the subject of this book. It is not enough that we be forgiven of our sins, or have righteousness imputed to us in a legal or formal fashion. Nor is the initial work of salvation in regeneration sufficient to accomplish the complete transformation we require. While regeneration begins this transformation, it does not entirely rectify our corruption or repair all our moral and spiritual deficiencies. So we are left with the question of how we acquire the actual holiness that is essential for those who want to see the Lord, to know him in the deeply personal sense of enjoying a genuinely loving relationship with him” (Jerry Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, page 4).

First, Walls states that forgiveness of sins is not enough to inherit eternal life (“enter heaven”). According to the apostle Paul, sinners become saints by “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). To be “redeemed” means to be bought again---thus, forgiveness of sins by Christ indicates that we are His children and have been freed from our bondage to sin. Righteousness must be imputed to us because we cannot merit the righteousness of God. As Romans 4 details, Abraham had to “believe God” (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3) in order to receive righteousness. Righteousness must be imputed to us because without it, we cannot see the kingdom of God. We cannot be looked upon with favor in God’s eyes until we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. This is the problem with the Jewish nation, Paul states (Rom. 10:1-4). The Israelites sought to become righteous in their own eyes instead of seeking the righteousness of God. This explains why they believed circumcision and Law-keeping were the requirements for salvation.

Walls also goes on to say that regeneration “initiates” transformation but does not complete it. However, does this not contradict the words of Paul in Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6, NASB)? If regeneration is the good work that Christ has begun in believers, does Paul not sound certain that Christ will complete it? And if so, does the phrase “the day of Christ Jesus” not complicate a view of purgatory that believes we must be transformed in the afterlife, post Christ’s second coming?

If Philippians 1:6 has anything to say about regeneration, there are problems with Walls’ theory that regeneration only starts transformation but does not complete it. He seems to think that regeneration is a one-time act, instead of a process that occurs throughout the whole of the Christian life. The Bible tells us that regeneration is synonymous with salvation (John 3:3, 14-18). Thus, passages that use the word “salvation” are also talking about regeneration. It is in the spirit of this truth that 2 Thessalonians 2:13 argues against Walls’ notion that regeneration is not enough, and we need sanctification too. Sanctification is a component of the regeneration process---which occurs day by day, not in one moment of time. The Dutch Reformed theologian James Arminius writes,

“This sanctification is not completed in a single moment; but sin, from whose dominion we have been delivered through the cross and the death of Christ, is weakened more and more by daily [detrimenta] losses, and the inner man is day by day renewed more and more, while we carry about with us in our bodies the death of Christ, and the outward man is perishing” (James Arminius, Works II: 409-410).
Arminius seemed to believe that the sins of man would diminish daily until they would be no more. When would man completely be ridden of sin? When he stepped into eternity, at his last breath.

There is much more to say, but this will suffice for now. In my next post, I will discuss Jerry Walls’ four options for sin and eternity. God bless.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Thanks for blogging again. Missed your thoughts. Looking forward to you critiquing this book. That Jesus' blood is not sufficient bothers me about this view. Was His death in vain? Was His blood shed for nothing if in fact our salvation and forgiveness is not found completely in Him?

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thanks for commenting here. I have really missed it as well. I am looking forward to critiquing this book. A lot of it focuses on C.S. Lewis's notion of purgatory and other mainstream views of purgatory that differ from the traditional sense. Most of Walls' book dives into the philosophical, but I want to spend a great deal of time on the biblical text and what believers can know the Bible says about this matter.

I think I would want to turn the tables around on Dr. Walls and say, "If redemption, forgiveness of sins, and Christ's righteousness imputed are not enough, is not holy character and spirit in as bad a shape as those or worse?" The truth is, being a good, upright person isn't enough, either. After all, there are good people who die and go to Hell every day. No matter how good we may think we are, there is no good in us--only Christ. He sounds as if, in the quote above, he really does not seem to be concerned with redemption, forgiveness of sins, and imputation of Christ's righteousness. Holiness in character and spirit are what consume him. I am all for us walking in holiness--but the only reason we can do this is because of Christ's righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and the daily sanctification of believers by the Spirit. Without all of these things, Walls' focus is a travesty.

Thanks for commenting here, Roy. I look forward to further dialogue.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...

I just want to say here that, if we entertain Walls' proposal, that holiness in character and spirit are the other things we need, then is his focus not worse off than the traditional view that he dismisses in his introduction? I merely entertain his assumption above--I do disagree with him, however. The imputation of Christ's righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and redemption are enough to save us. They are the very foundation upon which we discuss holiness. Since they are the foundation of holiness, how can we then dismiss the traditional view above, which shows us the essentials of the faith?